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The Beautiful and Terrifying Experiments of Startups

February 24, 2013
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We all love babies and puppies and pretty much anything when it is young even if they tend to be loud and messy. It is that innate optimism and vast potential we see in things that are just starting out. The big question is always is this acorn going to grow into a mighty oak…or just stay a little nut? The early years are always maddeningly messy yet also quite beautiful. And this is why we love startups.

Here’s a story about great beginnings, a place so interesting I would be happy to be the janitor there just to walk the halls.

The guy who houses hundreds of startups: Plug and Play’s Saeed Amidi

He owns the building where Google and Paypal got their starts. In his many locations around the world you’ll find hundreds of startups. (Around 200 startups in Sunnyvale alone. Nice.)

Okay, you have a great idea, you managed to gather an A-team of co-founders and you are ready to rock the global startup stage! Nothing is stopping you except maybe one thing: your location.

4 Tips for Startup Success When You’re Not Based in a Major Market


Maybe you work at a startup now or have worked at one in the past. Then you know what you are getting into, both the good and the bad. But what if you have only admired startups from afar but want to get closer? Here’s a couple of good presentions to get you thinking.

So you want to do a startup, eh?

Startup life and culture is super sexy and all sorts of founders are appearing in their jeans and t-shirts and boyish/girlish grins on the covers of magazines and newspapers across North America. Seems that millions of dollars of money is being thrown left right and center at anyone with a dream and the gumption to pursue it. There has been no better time to quit your day job and pursue this. It costs next to nothing to build stuff on the web, right? Only it isn’t *exactly* like that and we’re only hearing a small portion of the stories.


Starting your Startup

Choosing your technology stack is one of many decisions you’ll have to make when creating a company from scratch. Along with this, you’ll need to figure out who you should found a company with, who you should take money from, what the company culture should be, management processes, and who to hire when. Joe will be covering basic technology stack choices (cloud v. hosted, frameworks, etc.) as well as other critical decisions one faces when starting a startup.


So what are some things to avoid in a startup? Well they are certainly numerous and plentiful but here are four that are good lighthouses to keep your startup off the rocks:

The Four Biggest Mistakes Startups Make – Business Insider

The Four Biggest Mistakes Startups Make but along the way, as he’s invested in startups and advised their founders, he’s seen entrepreneurs continuously making the same mistakes that crash their companies, he says.




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Easy Money.

August 29, 2012
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Payment options continue to expand, making commerce easier for companies and individuals to do business anywhere and everywhere. It is absolutely fascinating to watch how this is changing business right in front of our eyes and it is exciting to see how it will change our lives in the next few years.

[LINK:] Want to see how our relationship with money is changing?

Today I read that WePay has rolled out a button, with a single line of code, that allows any site to accept in-line credit card payment. Sure, PayPal is still an almost frictionless option but for those without a PayPal account, WePay offers the ability for them to pay by credit card on any site. Maybe even your site.

[LINK:] TechCrunch article here.

If you are not familiar with NFC (Near Field Communication), here’s a [LINK:] short video that explains it for you.

And here are some projections from the good people at Square:




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User Experience

Why Top Execs Are Starting to Care About UX Design.

August 1, 2012
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Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 1.38.06 PM

Very good video with Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path which describes the path of User Experience to Customer Experience.

What do you think? Do you need your customers more than they need you?


Recommended Reading: Repairing a Fragmented Customer Experience

Recommended Reading: Customer Experience – A Daily Guide for Managers




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Our Changing Relationship With Money.

July 30, 2012
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Let’s look in a pocket…the one with your smart phone in it because that’s where the money is going to be in the form of “stored value” vehicles. You may even have one now if you have a Starbucks app. No cash or credit card needed for that one, eh?

A few weeks back I was in New York at a conference where Donald Chestnut and Alex Sion from SapientNitro were presenting, “Mobile Payments: The Future of Money”.

 Here are my notes:

mPayment Solutions don’t simply enable a new method of payment, they will fundamentally transform our relationship with money. There will be a paradigm shift in how money works, how people perceive and use it, and the end of physical currency as we know it.

Credit cards will undergo a significant transformations: mPayments will redefine how we pay, how we use credit, and what a credit card is. Is it credit? Is there a card? How do you extend, acquire, and receive credit?

Customer’s relationship to money and commerce will move from singular moments to an “always-on” relationship across space and time. When does “shopping “ happen? When dos “purchasing” happen? Buying online and picking up in a store, Checking out in a store and paying for it 2 days later…

mPayments will cause a fundamental change in the retail experience. Mobile payments will enable the “check out” process to occur in-aisle, at home, anywhere. As a result, mPayment will challenge – and redefine – long standing assumptions of how stores are designed.

The arrival of mobile payments will enable a new generation of real-time, insight driven, shopping and financial tools. This is the end of the days of consumers being “dumb” at point of sale. It is consumer empowerment to the max.

There are a variety of hurdles for mPayment success, with user adoption being paramount. Overcoming user adoption, interoperability, privacy and security, and government are among the largest obstacles to mobile payments. The ability to pay by phone will not guarantee success.

mPayments will enable a whole new class of merchants – including new ones. mPayment solutions will enable a whole new class of merchants: craftsmen, small business owners, etc.

The mPayment landscape is diverse, and success may come from a wide variety of players. These diverse players may include tech, merchants, traditional financial services, and government or a combo thereof.

NFC technology will fuel mobile payments growth but mobile payment success is not dependent on NFC. It’s not bout any specific technology. It’s about the experience of frictionless, transparent, consumer-empowered commerce and many roads will lead there.

Mobile payments will open up access to money transactions for the under-served. Opportunities for those without bank accounts, or access to branches or those without smart phones. Financial inclusion is the opportunity.

So, what about tablets? Here’s another perspective on that:





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Customer Experience

Service Design: Do You Need Your Customers More Than They Need You?

July 19, 2012
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Harley Manning is standing silently at the edge of the stage at Forrester’s Customer Experience 2012 conference in New York. He has just dropped a bomb on the audience and is now standing with arched eyebrows waiting for it to sink in. Moments earlier he flashed a single statement in big red type up on the overhead screen that said simply,
“I need my customers more than they need me.”

While arguably obvious, many companies have not operated this way for a very long time and this audience of senior executives in charge of customer relationships seems profoundly impacted.  His statement clearly has the intended effect on the audience as Harley changes the conversation from “What’s in it for my company” to “What’s in it for my customer?” and why that is so very urgent.

Now the audience is thinking differently…but why should they? Very simply, because they know that they are doing things that will either make the customer loyal or make the customer leave and it all depends on how they choose to run their business.

“These questions are at the heart of the matter over the next decade.”, Harley Manning declares, “Literally every company will compete on the basis of customer experience. In fact, they already do – most just don’t realize what that really means, what’s at stake, or how to do it well”.

“You are not going to succeed through manufacturing strength, distribution power, or information mastery – those have all been commoditized. And you can’t win by controlling the flow of information about your products and services either.”

Welcome to the Age of the Customer.

But isn’t that just customer service? In OutsideIn: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business we learn it’s not. “Equating Customer Service with Customer Experience is like saying a safety net is a trapeze act. Yes, the net is important to the act but if the performer needs to use the net the something has gone wrong with the show.”

Three questions we can be asking our customers is, “Did it meet your needs?”, “Was it easy?, and “Was it enjoyable?”. But remember, two out of three is not good enough! Meeting needs and making it easy are just table stakes, everyone is doing that. Making the experiences enjoyable is where the money is.

I have seen the rise in the UK over the last few years of a relatively new discipline called Service Design that asks some fundamental questions about what the customer experience should be like. An article in the Guardian on the subject, that includes both external customers and internal employees, asks, “What should the employee experience be like? How does a company remain true to its brand, to its core business assets and stay relevant to customers?”

During the conference someone told me a story about a telecom company in Europe that invested heavily in empowering their call center people to “make the customer happy”. But they came to realize that customers did not want to be made happy when calling customer service, they wanted the company to stop causing problems in the first place! And so the company went upstream to the root problems and fixed them.

So how might you go about this? Here are some of our tools and processes from the world of Service Design and Customer Experience:

• Create a Customer Journey Map: This is a co-created diagram that illustrates the steps your customer goes through when they with your company, whether it be a product, an online experience, retail experience, or a service, or any combination. The more touchpoints you have, the more complicated, and necessary, such a map becomes.


• Identify the Problems: A good way of doing this is to put red, yellow, and green dots on each of the customer touchpoints the team has identified. Green means working well, yellow means some improvement is possible, and red means it is broken and needs to be fixed. The team can then take a step back and see where the ship is leaking.

• Make a Business Case of Specific Benefits: This is, of course, just good business but you and the team may be very surprised at the amount of value in Customer Experience. According to Forrester, Sprint was able to save $1.7 Billion by reducing the need for several call centers. Fidelity found that their most satisfied customers invested 450% as much with the company as did their least satisfied customers, the difference between satisfied and not satisfied customers meaning billions of dollars.

In these early days of companies increasingly focusing on Omnichannel efficiencies, now is the right time to remember that we need our customers more than they need us and figure out how to create excellent customer experiences.

Here’s why execs are starting to care about UX.


Recommended Reading: Data Mapping the Customer Experience in 2013


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Customer Experience

Is Customer Experience Just a Fad?

July 18, 2012
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It is 7:30 in the morning at the Forrester Customer Experience conference in New York City and Kerry Bodine, her shoulder length brown hair bouncing to accentuate each new point, is enthusiastically explaining how the decrease in butterflies in Zion National Park is analogous to customer experience problems in companies around the world.

Even at this early hour, the analogy makes sense.

Kerry is pacing the front of the room, underlining her findings with a presentation filled with big pictures and few words while showing us how Sprint, Vanguard, Holiday Inn, Virgin Mobile, and the Mayo Clinic have all created significant ROI (In two cases, in the billions of dollars) by systemically addressing customer experience issues and the stories are absolutely fascinating! That, and her early morning enthusiasm, is totally infectious.

Facing the audience with arms held wide Kerry continues, “The development of Zion National Park in 1918 brought in a flock of visitors which, as an unintended consequence scared off the cougars, which led to an increase in the deer population, which ate the cottonwood trees, which caused the banks of the river to erode leaving large areas of gravel where wildflowers could not bloom and so the butterflies mostly disappeared.”

“In short…an unhealthy ecosystem.” She says animatedly pointing to the slide on the screen.

“This chain of events may seem obvious now but it took scientists decades to determine the root cause of the butterfly problem. That’s because natural ecosystems consist of complex interdependent relationships that change over time.” Kerry says and is pointing to a slide entitled, The Six Essential Customer Experience Disciplines, which are explained in detail in a new book by Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning entitled, Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business.

And here the butterflies turn into business.

“If you are trying to solve customer problems without understanding your customer experience ecosystem you might as well be air-dropping butterflies into Zion National Park. You are going to spend a whole lot of money and end up right where you started”.

“If you have customers, then you have a customer experience ecosystem!”

In an advance copy of Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, it tells of how Megan Burns, Forrester’s lead analyst on customer experience maturity, uncovered six disciplines by reviewing Forrester’s customer experience research going back to 1998 and also studying programs at firms that got high marks in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index.

For those practitioners on the customer experience journey, it offers a way to organize everything they have to think about into manageable chunks.

Without giving too much away, here’s a high level overview. The book, of course, goes into much greater detail:

The Six Essential Customer Experience Disciplines

1 Strategy Practices
You’ll want to define a customer experience that describes the intended customer experience and also aligns with the overall company strategy and brand attributes.

 2 Customer-Understanding Practices
This is where you get out from behind that desk of yours and find out what customers are really thinking about all the touchpoints with your company. Create surveys, conduct interviews, mine calls, email, and social media posts. Go talk to real customers.

Also, gather input from employees about their experiences with customers and their role in delivering the customer experience. You’ll want to start collecting allies across your organization.

 3 Design Practices
Create a Customer Journey Map and identify all the touchpoints with your customers. Do not do this by silos or business units for two reasons, 1) your customers don’t think of you in this way and 2) because you will likely find that your problem areas are in the “white space” between silos…places where the dots are not connecting well in your organization.

Remember to co-create with your customers during this process of developing the customer experience ecosystem. Use iterative ideation, prototyping, and evaluation of the complex interdependencies and do it together. You are on the journey together.

 4 Measurement Practices
Here you will want to define a customer experience quality framework that aligns with how customers judge an experience and then measure how customers perceive their experience. You will want to model the relationship between drivers of customer experience quality, perceptions, and business outcomes.

 5 Governance Practices
Start here by defining a consistent set of customer experience standards across your company and, if possible, include alignment with the customer experience strategy as a criterion for evaluating project funding and prioritization decisions.

 6 Culture Practices
You’ve heard this before but communicate, communicate, communicate. Talk to employees, customers, partners, and shareholders about the importance of customer experience. Use informal and formal reward structures to highlight successful customer-centric behavior.

Everyone in your company is on your customer experience team. Everyone.

So, What About Customer Experience?

Towards the end of the presentation Kerry leaned in, spread her hands on the table in front of her, looked up and declared, “Customer experience leads to profits…but only if you treat it as a business discipline.”

I knew from my experience in retail that this was true and I am looking forward to see how deeply companies embrace the customer experience work that needs to be done. We all know expectations are high. We all know the customer is in control. We all know there is work to be done.

But is this customer experience thing just a fad? Is it just the latest catch phrase in a game of business buzzword bingo?

Let me ask you this then, “Are your customers just a fad?”

Didn’t think so.


Recommended Reading: Co-Create Your Customer Experience



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Customer Experience

Does Customer Experience Pay and Pay and Pay?

July 16, 2012
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One of life’s more pleasant rewards is discovering that the work you are doing is valuable. And in some cases, discovering it is extremely valuable.

So for those working towards creating enjoyable Customer Experiences, there is good news.

 A recent Customer Experience Stock Performance Analysis reveals that Customer Experience Leaders outperform the S&P 500 Index by 27%, creating value for customers, their companies, and investors.

Watermark Consulting, who did this research, explains how the analysis works:
“We look at the cumulative stock returns for the Top 10 and Bottom 10 publicly traded companies in Forrester Research’s annual Customer Experience Index ranking (Watermark defines these two groups as the Leaders and Laggards, respectively).

We compare the total return from investing in an equally-weighted, annually readjusted portfolio of customer experience Leaders to that for customer experience Laggards and the broader market (as reflected by the S&P 500 index).

 The Results

For the five-year period from 2007-2011, the customer experience Leader portfolio outperformed the broader stock market, generating cumulative total returns that were 27% better than the S&P 500 Index and 128% better than the customer experience Laggard portfolio.

 This pecking order of performance held true even on an annual basis.  In all but one of the five years, the Leader portfolio outperformed the index, which in turn outperformed the Laggard portfolio.”

Now obviously there are several caveats to point at this research; five years is not a long enough time to prove this out, the sample size is relatively small, and embracing a customer experience strategy is not the same as executing well. Nor is this an invitation to not cost-justify each customer experience project, you must.

But what it does suggest is that companies that successfully deliver enjoyable comprehensive customer experiences are rewarded by both customers and investors.

Why are Customer Experience and Service Design such hot topics? For many companies it is because it is important, it is complex, and it is broken.

Perhaps this is even true at your company but maybe you are not sure how to get started.

Begin with building a business case for superior customer experience, use the Customer Experience Stock Performance Analysis to start the conversation. Trust me, it gets people to sit up and take notice.

Then take a look at some case studies of companies that are effectively improving their customer experience. In August, a book that I highly recommend is coming out and I suggest you buy several copies for your team. Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine provides powerful, compelling case studies that can be used in conversations around customer experience within your organization and with customers.

In it you’ll find customer experience success stories from USAA, Office Depot, Fidelity, Sprint, EMC, Canada Post, and Holiday Inn, all of which will be helpful in building your business cases for customer experience improvements. These are powerful, insightful stories that will inspire you and other business leaders in your organization to ask, “Is this something we can be doing here?”

For the leaders on the Customer Experience Index, the answer is “yes”.

And for you, the answer can also be “Yes”.

Is Customer Experience just a fad?


Recommended Reading: Looking For An Improved Customer Experience | The Blog


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